• Desmond Richardson. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

    Body Impossible: Desmond Richardson and the Politics of Virtuosity

    • Monograph
    • Oxford University Press
    • Oxford Studies in Dance Theory Series
    • Publication date: Feb 2, 2024
    • Pre-Order Here: Body Impossible

    Body Impossible theorizes the concept of virtuosity in contemporary dance through a study of the career of virtuoso Desmond Richardson, whose versatility and improvisational brilliance led him to perform with the likes of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Ballett Frankfurt, Michael Jackson, and Prince. With choreographer Dwight Rhoden, Richardson co-founded Complexions Contemporary Ballet, inaugurating a virtuosic queer black dance aesthetic.

    Osterweis suggests that discourses of virtuosity are linked to connotations of excess, and this book’s analysis of the formal and sociocultural aspects of virtuosity reveals under-recognized heterogeneity brought about by underground and popular culture’s influence on concert dance. Focusing on the decades approaching the millennium (shaped by Reaganism, the Culture Wars, the AIDS epidemic, the New Jim Crow, and MTV), Body Impossible accounts for the constitutive relationship between disciplined perceptions of virtuosity’s excess and the disciplining of the racialized body in national and transnational contexts. 

  • Sculpture with human figure on bicycle and severed limbs
    Narcissister, The Workout, 2007. Photo by Kristy Leibowitz.

    Disavowing Virtuosity, Performing Aspiration: Dance and Performance Interviews

    • Routledge
    • Under contract

    Disavowing Virtuosity, Performing Aspiration: Dance and Performance Interviews is a book project comprised of interviews with dance and performance artists and scholars over the course of about fifteen years. These interviews take place from 2006-2023 and are conducted by dance and performance studies scholar-practitioner Ariel Osterweis. Osterweis’ research and writing are invested in questions of virtuosity, race, sexuality, gender, and class. They interrogate the term virtuosity culturally and historically, especially its inherent queerness and entanglement with formal hybridity. Although the project focuses a great deal on socio-cultural and aesthetic issues affecting American artists, Osterweis demonstrates a commitment to international voices, especially concerning the postcolonial and transnational. The book is structured into two main sections, each bookmarked by essays by Osterweis and interspersed with one or two additional essays by guest contributors.

  • Dancer
    Sylphides by François Chaignaud and Cecilia Bengolea. Photo by Alain Monot.

    Prophylactic Aesthetics: Latex, Spandex, and Sexual Anxieties Performed

    • Monograph
    • University of Michigan Press
    • Theater: Theory/Text/Performance Series
    • Under contract

    Osterweis’ interest in virtuosity and its disavowal has brought them to their current book project, Prophylactic Aesthetics: Latex, Spandex, and Sexual Anxieties Performed. This monograph observes that from latex to spandex, Gen X has been encasing its bodies and their parts in stretchy materials for several decades. Latex has become a signifier for “safe sex,” while spandex conjures mottos like “no pain, no gain.” Thinking through safety and danger (and/as compression and expansion) in physical cultures of sports, dance, and sex, Prophylactic Aesthetics reveals the ways contemporary dance and performance makers revisit and revitalize corporeal anxieties of the 1980s and 1990s, from the fat-burning compulsion of aerobics to the legal battles of the Culture Wars.

    Not merely the stuff of mass-produced yoga pants, Lycra (spandex’s brand name) has allowed for intentionally ambivalent gender presentations in dance forms as seemingly disparate as contemporary ballet and vogue femme. Although it can be made synthetically, latex in its natural form is a fluid born of plants and, as an herbivorous insect deterrent, is a kind of prophylactic unto itself. While latex is a natural or synthetic rubber used in physically active scenarios, from medical gloves in surgical settings to condoms during sex, Lycra is a fiber invented by the Dupont family corporation, as they shifted attention away from their masculinist, militaristic production of gunpowder toward Lycra, specifically targeted to women starting in 1959 to introduce stretch and breath to otherwise restrictive girdles. While Women’s Lib began to reject the girdle, Lycra made its strongest reemergence in the 1980s with aerobics and the “religion” of Jane Fonda.

    What kinds of prophylactic dynamics are at play when it comes to latex and Lycra? While latex affords one a certain amount of sexual freedom with the idea of STD prevention, what is Lycra preventing—one’s husband from straying, fat from forming on the body, flesh from spilling beyond the body, fluids from leaking past skin and orifice? Both latex and Lycra would appear to calm bodily anxiety, but their very presence reminds us of the threat of contagion or fleshly excess. While latex both covers and enters the body (as in a condom), Lycra typically functions in contexts of bodily covering. The elastic property of both fibers complicates corporeal assumptions of the internal and external: flexible fabric promises to hold something “in,” to keep some externality internal. As related to class, both fibers are often linked to elite, leisure culture, on the one hand, and mass-produced accessibility, on the other. Osterweis pursues how “prophylactic” fibers supplement virtuosic corporeal pursuits and announce, at times, virtuosity’s disavowal.

Essays in Peer-Reviewed Journals

  • “Public Pubic: Narcissister’s Performance of Race, Disavowal, and Aspiration,” TDR/The Drama Review, TDR Consortium Special Issue, New Materialisms and Performance Studies, Ed. Rebecca Schneider, Winter 2015 (T228, 59.4), 101-116. View article
  • “The Muse of Virtuosity: Desmond Richardson, Race, and Choreographic Falsetto,” Dance Research Journal, Dec 2013 (45.3), 53-74. View article
  • “Dancing Social,” epistolary essay on Narcissister with Barbara Browning, Theatre Survey, Ed. Patrick Anderson, Fall 2012 (52), 269-277. View article
  • “Performing Acupuncture on a Necropolitical Body: Choreographer Faustin Linyekula’s Studios Kabako in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo,” Dance Research Journal, Winter 2010 (42.2), 12-27. View article


  • CalArts, Website, Clubbing 2020, writing and media from graduate course, Clubbing, Apr 2021
  • CalArts, Book/Zine Series, Editor, Issue 2: Clubbing, The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance, Summer 2019.
    View zine
  • CalArts, Book/Zine Series, Editor/Contributor, Issue 1: Imagine a Dance Training, The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance, Summer 2018.
    View zine

Chapters in Edited Collections

  • “Disavowing Virtuosity, Performing Aspiration: Choreographies of Anticlimax in the Work of Yve Laris Cohen, Narcissister, and John Jasperse,” The Futures of Dance Studies, Eds. Susan Manning, Janice Ross, and Rebecca Schneider (University of Wisconsin Press), 2020. View chapter
  • “Geo-Choreography and Necropolitics: Faustin Linyekula’s Studios Kabako, Democratic Republic of Congo,” Choreographies of 21st Century Wars, Eds. Jens Giersdorf and Gay Morris (Oxford University Press), 2016.
  • “Disciplining Black Swan, Animalizing Ambition,” Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen, Ed. Melissa Blanco Borelli (Oxford University Press), 2014. View chapter

Book Reviews in Peer-Reviewed Journals

  • Dance and the Nation: Performance, Ritual, and Politics in Sri Lanka, Susan Reed. Dance Research Journal, Winter 2011 (43.2) (solicited). View article

Performance Reviews in Peer-Reviewed Journals

  • “The Off-Staging of William Forsythe’s Dance in the Museum,” Co-Authored by Paola Escobar, Yanting Li, Julia Meyer, Marissa Osato, A Publication of the College Art Association (March 2018). View article
  • “Exquisite Distraction: David Roussève’s Saudade, e-misférica (April 2009). View article
  • “Watering the Studio: Dance Company 5e Dimension Rehearses in Dakar, Senegal,” Women and Performance: a journal of feminist theory (Nov 2006).

Features in Dance, Performance, and Other Publications

  • “Narcissister Breast Work,” Black One Shot, ASAP journal, September, 2020. View article
  • “Interview with William Forsythe,” Numéro Magazine, December, 2017. View article
  • “Museum Realness: Rashaad Newsome, Trajal Harrell, and Voguing in the White Cube,” Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (XL) / The Publication, Trajal Harrell, Tom Engels, and Thibault Lac, Eds, 2017. View article
  • “Winking at Jesus: The Dancing Masculinities of Campo and Trajal Harrell,” republished in Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (XL) / The Publication, Trajal Harrell, Tom Engels, and Thibault Lac, Eds, 2017. View article
  • “Trajal Harrell’s (Email) Journey from Judson to Harlem,” republished in Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (XL) / The Publication, Trajal Harrell, Tom Engels, and Thibault Lac, Eds, 2017.
  • “Winking at Jesus: The Dancing Masculinities of Campo and Trajal Harrell,” Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, TBA Festival Blog, Sept 2013.
  • “Trajal Harrell’s (Email) Journey from Judson to Harlem,” Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, TBA Festival Blog, Sept 2013. View article
  • “Apparitional Tools” (Interview with artist Karen Sherman), Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, TBA Festival Blog, Sept 2013.
  • “Inside Spaces, Spaces Inside” (Interview with choreographer Nacera Belaza), Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, TBA Festival Blog, Sept 2013.
  • Interview with Trajal Harrell, Studio: The Studio Museum in Harlem Magazine (Winter/Spring 2010).
  • “Being Blurred, Ralph Lemon Interviewed,” In Dance, (Oct 2010). View article
  • “The Contemporary Ballet Master: A Portrait of Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s Jae Man Joo and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s Alexandra Damiani,” Dancer Magazine (Dec 2009).
  • “On the Record With Choreographer Edgar Zendejas,” Dancer Magazine (Dec 2009).
  • “Single Ladies Man” (JaQuel Knight, choreographer for Beyonce), Dancer Magazine (July 2009).
  • “‘That Unspeakable Somewhat’: Bill T. Jones, Abraham Lincoln, and the Question of Iconicity,” In Dance (May 2009). View article
  • “Longing: The Global Postmodern Poetics of David Rousseve’s Saudade,” In Dance (Feb 2009).
  • “Translating the Cipher: RUBBERBANDANCE GROUP Creates a Contemporary Hip-Hop Genre,” Dancer Magazine (Aug 2008).
  • “Robin Dunn Gives Hip-Hop a F.A.C.E.-Lift,” Dancer Magazine (Aug 2008).
  • “Dancing Dean: Ethan Stiefel Leaps Into a New Role at the North Carolina School of the Arts,” Dancer Magazine (July 2008).
  • “Faustin Linyekula’s Spaces of Possibility,” Dancer Magazine (June 2008).
  • “Jason Samuels Smith: Tapping Into History,” Dancer Magazine (Apr 2008).
  • Interview of Compagnie TchéTché, artistic director Béatrice Kombé (Ivory Coast) for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts program, San Francisco, 2006.